The 24 Days of Blogging Day 2: “And when we’re worried, and we can’t sleep, we’ll count our blessings instead of sheep”
Friday, 2. December 2016 23:41 | Author:admin
Today I attended a training session for teachers and administrators who will be serving on accreditation teams in the spring. All of the schools in our diocese are accredited through the Western Catholic Education Association (WASC) as well as the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). Every six years, schools do a self-study, gathering and analyzing data, evaluating how their school meets the standards of a successful Catholic school, and developing an improvement plan for the next six years. I’ve participated in all aspects of accreditation, preparing a school’s self study, serving and chairing visiting teams, and reading visiting team reports as a commissioner. I enjoy all parts of this process, and despite usual criticism about the work and time involved, I believe that schools are better for this process. It is our chief guarantee to parents and the community of the quality and vitality of school programs realative to student growth.
That being said, this process (and all school evaluation) is hampered by the myopic culture of success. No parent would ever send a child to a school that isn’t doing well, so every school, by definition, must be doing well. For a school administrator to admit that there are major areas of growth is tantamount to organizational suicide. Areas of growth have to be contained within acceptable areas with clear plans to address them, like the need for more technology training or need for more data analysis. Neither of these two truly admits a need except to get better.
So there is a tendency for schools to write reports that are defensive rather than truly analytical. If the final outcome (we are a good school) is decided before any data is gathered or one word is put to page, what is gathered, how it is seen, and the story it tells is of limited impact. Our culture (particularly the culture of non-public schools) can’t accept a less than shining result. So results are shining. Teams likewise, reading reports and visiting schools, feel subconscious pressure to affirm wherever possible the story that the school is telling itself. Though many teams make strong recommendations and point out flaws in the report, the default is to fall into the school narrative. To veer too dramatically is to put at risk the school’s actual viability.
The problem with this is that it is an anti-growth model. If structures put themselves at risk by admitting too much, then the structures will only look at and deal with superficial issues. Change doesn’t happen. If there were a way for schools to be assessed on how clearly they find and understand true short and long term needs, and if our culture could comprehend that it is the organizations that are squarely facing their weaknesses that will have a better long term pattern of success, true growth would take place. The terror of seeming weak in any way is a recipe for mediocrity. Wouldn’t it be world shaking is the model moved from, “prove that you are good,” to, “prove that you really understand yourself.” As is there is a tendency to get reports that read like the old interview response, “My greatest weakness? Well, my greatest weakness is that I just work too hard.”
Let me be clear again, I think the accreditation process as we have it is the best tool for school improvement that we have, but even the best of tools can get better.
As always, I welcome your comments.